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Joe Carillo
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« on: July 13, 2017, 09:09:41 AM »

As an introduction to the need for logical thinking in our everyday life, I’d like to relate how over breakfast in mid-2003, my wife Leonor wagged the front page of the morning newspaper at me and said: “Look at this headline at the very top of the paper. It says ‘State of public education: 1 doctor per 90,000 studes.’ I can’t say exactly what the problem is, but I think something’s terribly wrong here.”


I stared at the headline and blinked: “‘State of public education: 1 doctor per 90,000 students’? Mmm... I think the headline-writer really meant ‘State of school health care: 1 doctor per 90,000 studes.’ The poor guy must have missed a lot of sleep. That there’s only one doctor per 90,000 students in the public schools certainly couldn’t be a measure of the state of public education. The state of literacy and quality of instruction perhaps, but doctors? That’s really weird!”

“So why do they make a headline like that?” Leonor asked.

“Well, love, in formal logic, that headline would be called a fallacy of irrelevance, which is better known by its Latin name ignoratio elenchi, meaning ‘irrelevant conclusion.’ This type of fallacy tries to establish the truth of a proposition with arguments that support an entirely different conclusion.”

“You mean the guys putting out this paper didn’t know that? Don’t they teach formal logic in mass communication or journalism?”

“Of course they do! Formal logic is a college requirement, but sometimes, when mental fatigue sets in, even the best minds fall for fallacies of irrelevance. The worst case is the non sequitur, another Latin term that literally means ‘it doesn’t follow.’ Non sequiturs are arguments that fail to establish a connection between their premises and their conclusion. And then there are the so-called verbal fallacies, those false conclusions people make when words are used improperly or ambiguously. If I’m not mistaken, that headline is also a classic case of the verbal fallacy of abstraction. That’s the logical error of focusing on only one aspect of reality and then pronouncing it to be the whole truth.”


“Well, I’m sure our Education officials can just require schools to teach logic better. It’s scary. If this newspaper can be this illogical right on the front page, I can’t imagine how it will be with the lesser ones.”

“It’s really scary, Leonor, but I’m not very sure if our Education officials are even aware of the problem,” I said. “It looks like they have the same problem with English and logic—probably even worse. Just yesterday, while passing by their central offices along Meralco Avenue in Pasig, I saw a big billboard of theirs that almost made my eyes pop out.”

“Why?” she asked, sipping her coffee. “What did the billboard say?”

“Well, the billboard had something to do with iodized salt. It said it was a joint project of the LGU, DEC, DOH, Kiwanis, and UNICEF—the big guns in development, you might say. But you wouldn’t believe the slogan they had on that billboard. It said: ‘Be Intelligent. Use Iodized Salt Every Day.’”

“So what’s wrong with that? Seems to me like sensible nutritional advice.”

“My love,” I chided her, “don’t you see? That slogan is actually a very serious verbal fallacy. It’s the fallacy of equivocation. It uses the word ‘intelligent’ in more than one sense, yet gives the impression that only one is meant. The first fallacy is that you can make yourself intelligent simply by an act of will. The second is that using iodized salt every day will make you intelligent. They are a double non sequitur, a double absurdity. Both childish oversimplifications—and dangerous.”

“I see what you mean. You’re right, and now that really scares me like hell!”


(Next: Watching out against the material fallacies) July 20, 2017   

This essay, 1048th  of a series, appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of The Manila Times, July 13, 2017 issue (print edition only), © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2017, 08:56:27 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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